Friday, February 24, 2012

Five Things For Friday, My Favorite Books Edition

A few weeks ago one of my friends started a book club to study the Classics for a group of homeschooling mothers in our area. Even though I am not a homeschool mom (unless you count pre-school) she invited me to participate. When we met for the first time we chose several books we wanted to read over the next few months. We are reading the first half of Don Quitoxe this month. So far I really, really love it. Reading it has gotten me thinking about some of my other favorite books, and since someone (forever ago) asked me to share what some of my favorite fiction books are I figured I’d finally do it since I am in such a literary mood.

I am a huge bookworm and so picking a favorite book, or even five favorite books, is really hard for me. But I decided on these one because I have read them all more than once and all have all had significant impact of the way I look at the world. I also didn’t realize until I made this list that all but one of my favorites were written by women!


The Good Earth by Pearl Buck

Pearl Buck was an American woman who grew up (and lived most of her life) in China because her parents were Christian Missionaries. She was an incredible feminist writer and in many of her books she addresses important women’s issues, but she does it from an Asian woman’s perspective. It is really incredible to see how even though culture, language, and background may differ women and their struggles are the same all over the world.

The first time I read this book I was very tempted to throw it across the room and scream because the main character, a man named Wang-lung, is so infuriating. But I didn’t fling it, which I am sure the book was grateful for, and it has by far become my favorite book because the story and its message is so powerful.

I am not going to give the story away, but in a nutshell here is what the story the message is (according to me). When the earth suffers, women suffer and when women suffer, the earth suffers. Through her character O-lan, Buck makes the argument that all of man's (in the story Wang-lung's) increase and prosperity comes because of his reliance on the "good earth", which refers not only to his land but also to his good woman. Without his woman he would have had none of the prosperity he enjoys! The tragedy is that he doesn't appreciate what he has and the woman suffers. My heart just aches for O-lan and she reminds me that so many woman in the world live similar lives. So many women bring forth fruit, raise it and cultivate it, in silence. They are trampled on, destroyed, and unappreciated. Life would cease to exist without the earth, just as life would cease to exist without women.

I think about this book all the time, which I guess is why it is my favorite.


Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

The first time I picked up this book I was totally blown away by it. I was expecting it to be a scary horror story, like I had seen it portrayed in the movies, but it was definitely not. I was really surprised to discover that it is a powerful and poignant treatise about the sanctity of human life and our responsibility towards all life-- no matter how it was born or how it looks. I could really go on all day about this book, about how the real monster in the book is Dr. Frankenstein because of his prejudices and his unwillingness to be a father to the “child” he created, how the monster is pure and trusting at first but how the world destroys it and slowly eats away at his self-worth and the consequences that come of it. And mostly, how we as a society have a responsibility to create, protect, and nurture the life we create.

Oh man, I really love this book. I think I might just go re-read it.


Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

This was another book that totally surprised me. I don’t know why but for some reason I had it in my mind that this book was going to be b-o-r-i-n-g. I guessed I just assumed that any book that could, as Abraham Lincoln said “start” the Civil War, probably wasn’t going to be a fun read. I was wrong, way wrong. The story is so engaging and the characters are awesome. I don’t think there could be a worse villain than Simon LeGree and knowing that he was based on real people, and that what much of the slaves suffered really happened, just makes it even more gut wrenching. Stowe does a brilliant job of looking at the slave question from every possible angle. I can see why this book had the impact it had, because no matter what your political opinion this book found a way to open your eyes and heart to the horrors of slavery. There are SO many social topics today that need another Harriet Beecher Stowe to champion their cause. Her book is honestly… brilliant.


Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

I have to admit that the first time I ever tried reading this book I hated it. I don’t know why. But when I picked it up again, this time as a mother, I LOVED it. Every time I read it it makes me laugh and giggle. It is really satirical and full of deep levels of meaning, which I didn’t pick up when I was younger. He does such a good job of capturing the essence and spirit of childhood and, as a mother, it helps me remember what it was like to live in “Neverland” and reminds me to enjoy my children more. Every time I start to get frustrated with them I just have to remember that before I know it they will leave “Neverland” and grow up way too fast… except for Peter (who still has all his baby teeth). I have been reading this to Asher and Rose before bedtime the last few months and I love it that they can enjoy the story (they are a bit obsessed with fairies and pirates) and that I get to feast on the "not so hidden” message to parents. This is one that I could, and have, read over and over again.


The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boon

This is a true story of two Dutch women who were caught hiding Jews in their home during WWII and sent to a concentration camp. The story of their survival is so powerful and so full of miracles. There are two parts that I think about all the time. The first is how the women were able to smuggle in a small copy of the Bible (even though they were stripped searched) and how they would get a group of women together every night to read from it. They were living in flea infested bunks and when they first got there Betsy (her sister) made Corrie thank God for everything, even the fleas. Corrie refused to thank God for the fleas but later she found out that the reason the guards never bothered them during their Bible reading time was because of the fleas. When ever I am hard pressed to see my blessings I just think of those fleas!

I was also so touched by the account Corrie gives, after the war was over, of meeting one of the Nazi guards who tormented her. The guard had become a Christan and wanted to ask for her forgiveness. She wasn’t sure she could give it and so she prayed that God would help her. She said that it was a miracle but she accepted the guards forgiveness and from that moment on she felt peace enter her heart and heal her. I love this part because I once met a woman who was a survivor of the concentration camps and was so shocked at how bitter and angry she was. She had never forgiven her captors and she was the most unhappy person I have ever met. It was such a powerful realization to me of how powerful forgiveness is. When we refuse to forgive, even for horrific things, we kill a part of our souls.

Like I said these are just some of my favorite fiction books. There are many others that I love and some of the ones that were vying for spots on my list were “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” by Jules Vern, “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens, and “Hannah Coulter” by Wendell Berry.

I am always looking for new favorite books and I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to hear what your favorite books are. But you have to limit them to five or under so that I know that they are good enough to have made the cut!

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  1. Great list! Now I have a couple of ideas for what I want to read next. I love The Hiding Place too! I didn't like Peter Pan back when I read it in 6th grade because although I was an advanced reader, the language was still a bit difficult for me. I'll have to read it again. Same goes for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I had to sit in the hall in 5th grade and read it by myself because I was an advanced reader, while the rest of the class got to sit in the classroom and read along while the teacher read The Secret Garden. Who wouldn't hate that book after that?!

    I just finished reading The Robe by Lloyd C. Douglas. I thought it was really good, despite the fact that Christ's robe is given what seems to be "magical" powers a little bit. It wasn't a huge deal in the book, but kinda weird from an LDS point of view. I just read the entire unabridged version of Le Mis too and it was amazing. Also, Just David, by Eleanor H. Porter. That one is simple and sweet with a nice message.
    I'm reading A Tale of Two Cities right now- I hope I like it as much as you did!

    1. :D :D :D :D :D :D You've read Les Mis unabridged? New favorite person in the world.

  2. I just finished reading The Hiding Place again last week! Just to clarify The Hiding Place is NOT fiction. I know you said it was a true story but then you still bunched it up with your favorite fiction books. Don't want anyone getting mixed up about it.=)

    Just David already mentioned by Holly is my favorite children's book. LOVE it!

    One little short book that is a quick, fun read is called Two Old Women by Velma Wallis. It's based on an Alaskan Athabascan Indian legend.

    I also like Gene Stratton Porter's books {The Girl of the Limberlost, Freckles}.

    Don Quixote and The Count of Monte Cristo are also some of my faves.

    Okay that was six total. Better stop!

  3. Persuasion by Jane Austen (everyone loves Pride & Prejudice) and I do, too, but Persuasion is my favorite!)

    A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, followed closely by Great Expectations

    The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling and The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman which is loosely based on Kipling's novel.

    These Is My Words by Nancy E. Turner

    The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

    And soooooo many more!!

  4. Hmm... Some of my favorites? Gone with the Wind (SO much better than the movie and I like the movie), The Great Divorce (Lewis), Anna Karenina (Tolstoy), The Little Prince.

  5. I just proposed the Good Earth to my book club and of those that had already read it, nobody liked it. It's good your opinion--now I'll just read it on my own.
    My favorite author is Chaim Potok. My Name is Asher Lev, The Chosen, The Promise. They are all about Jewish culture and I found them facinating. He's written many others, but those 3 are my picks.
    Thanks for the ideas.

  6. I love your choices! I read Peter Pan to Taylor & Reilly last summer and we all really enjoyed it. :)
    I have waaaaay too many favorite books. Authors are easier for me. Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, C.S. Lewis, L.M. Montgomery, Alexandre Dumas... I agree with Jeanine above about "The Great Divorce," I think it's one of C.S. Lewis's most under-appreciated works.

  7. Oh, getting started on great books!!! There are so, so many it's hard to choose favorites.

    You really ought to read ANYTHING by Og Mandino or Mitch Albom . . . you just can't go wrong there. They write majestically and I never grow weary of it. I can never quit thinking about them afterwards. Another 'thinker' is "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet" by Jamie Ford.

    I agree with choices from C. S. Lewis and Charles Dickens wholeheartedly. Loved "The Hiding Place" as well. "These Is My Words" by Nancy Turner Davis is one of my all time favorites, as is "A Little Princess" by Sara Crewe.

    For something whimsical (and incredibly far better than the movie), read "The Tale of Desperaux." I promise you won't be disappointed. It has a great message. I also love "The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency" series by Alexander McCall Smith and "The Giver" by Lois Lowry.

    Some fun books? Carolyn Hart's "Ghost In Trouble" series, Jan Karon's "Mitford" series, and Ann Ross' "Miss Julia" series.

    Ah, so much reading, so little time . . .

  8. Choclate on my Cranium-- good point, The Hidding Place isn't fiction. I guess I just put it in with book that I consider to be stories-- instead of say a text book or something. Thanks for clarifying that!

    EmiG-- and I am SO WITH you about Persuasion. IT was the first Jane Austen I read and it is by far my favorite too. The story is more mature and I like that.

    Michelle, I' ll be curious to know what you think about the Good Earth. My hubby wasn't a big fan of it when he first read it, then we talked about it and he saw it in a different light. I think that the problem with ALL of Pearl Buck's writings (and I"ve read a lot of them) is that you can't just read it for the story-- or else you will hate it and all the characters. You have to find what social issue she is tackling and look at it with those lenses. IT would be a great one to do for a book club, if you had a group that was willing to jump out of their comfort zone.

    Thanks for all the suggestion! Keep them coming!

  9. Oh, I need to read with you. I don't "get" (or perhaps the word is "appreciate" ;) "Persuasion" or "The Good Earth".

    But I do love..let's see, only 5...I'll try to pick ones not yet mentioned:

    Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell

    North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

    Mandy by Julie Andrews Edwards

    David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

    and what to choose next...

    how about Life and Death in Shanghai by Nien Cheng

  10. I love the Good Earth!

    Isn't there some more books after that one? I think there is and I enjoyed them as well.

    I also love the Mitford Series by Jan Karon...such a good series.

    My 5 books:

    Spring Moon and Eighth by Bette Bao Lord the two books are not related. Spring Moon is fiction and the other is a true story. But both are amazing.

    Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery

    Little Women, Little Men and Jo's Boys by Lourisa May Alcott

    Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass - this is found in juvenile fiction, but it is amazing. Stayed with me for days and I really want to read it again.

    Tons more, but I will stop.

  11. OK, for some strange reason I just had to come back and mention a book that I swear NOBODY has read, but my mom and sister and I LOVE! It's called Seven Daughters and Seven Sons and it's by Barbara Cohen. You will absolutely love it.

  12. If you want to read more "count your blessings" books, you'd like:
    God's Smuggler by Brother Andrew
    As I Have Loved You by Kitty De Ruyter-Bons

    I LOVE them (along with The Hiding Place).

    I also love to read a Newberry book now and then, and own 3 copies of To Kill a Mockingbird... just in case!

  13. I'm sitting here with a big smile knowing that my absolute favorite book is The Hiding Place. I read it for the first time when I was 14 and have read it over and over again. A few years ago I read it to my husband when we were going to The Nederlands. We visitted Harlem, the smaller town outside Amsterdam where corrie, Betsy and all the other people lived until they got deported. It was great! Go there, it you ever visit The Nederlands. It's a ten hour drive from my home so that's not very far...

  14. Oh, how I long for a book club that would read books like this! The one in my area constantly reads twaddle.

    I can't exactly think of all my favorite books, but I can remember some recent wonderful books. Like the first commenter, I read "The Robe" a year or so ago. Yes, it was a little different than our normal LDS perspective, but I loved how reading it made me feel like I could picture the society Christ lived in so much better.

    I also loved reading Anne of Green Gables and Little Women within the last year - they both really helped me to understand my spirited eldest daughter better by coming to love Anne and Jo.

    Also agree with Jane Austen's Persuasion - and I've enjoyed a couple of the works of Elizabeth Gaskill, a contemporary writer of Jane Austen.

  15. I completely second the recommendation for "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet". It is just amazingly written. And thank you for sharing! I am always looking for new books to discover!

  16. Uncle Tom's Cabin and The Hiding Place are in my top 5 for sure! I will have to read the others you suggested. :)

  17. Some of my FAVES: The "A Wrinkle in Time" series. I could read those over and over and over. It's one of those series where I actually MISS the characters when I'm done reading them. They're technically Young Adult fiction, but I get something new from them every time I read them.

    The James Herriot books are lovely as well. They're not fiction, although they're written so beautifully you'd almost never know you're not just reading a novel. They're the tales of a young country vet just starting out as an intern to a vet in the north of England after WWII. They're absolutely wonderful and endearing. Love love love.

  18. I am so happy to find someone who also loved reading Frankenstein. I have suggested this book to many of my friends, however; many turn their heads thinking it is a horror book. It is one of my favorite books.